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A CurtainUp Review
The Rose Tattoo

Oh Madonna Sante. . .My husband's of a clown (hand gesture) A clown that smells like a goat. . .mdash; Serafina
rose tattoo
Marisa Tomei (Photo: Joan Marcu)
What an inspired idea it was to cast Marissa Tomei in the role of the earthy Sicilian seamstress Serafina Della Rose in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo . Notwithstanding her Oscar-winning performance in My Cousin Vinny and her many acclaimed film, stage and TV performances, it was clear that her performance as Serafina in Tennessee Williams'The Rose Tattoo at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2016 was worthy of being seen on a Broadway stage. (WTF Review).

It is, indeed, as it gives this always surprising actor the opportunity to pull out the most primitive side of a lusty Sicilian woman's passion. She does.

It is a minor quibble that Tomei doesn't, and probably never will, look like the Serafina described by Williams as "a plump little Italian singer in the role of Madame Butterfly." If Tomei's sensuality seems to evoke more of an erupting Mount St. Helena than a smoldering Aetna , her Serafina will, nevertheless, set off more than enough fireworks to make your blood tingle.

Whether it is the hilarious scene in which Tomei tries to wiggle out of a one-size-too-small girdle, or the bracing finale when she runs towards her lover Alvaro (Emun Elliott) and flings herself into his arms shouting, "Vengo, vengo, amore" the overall impact of her performance is stunningly operatic. This can also be said for the hilariously hot performance by Elliot, if not for the others in the cast. A pity.

When it's done well, The Rose Tattoo is Williams' most hilariously tempestuous play. It is wonderful enough where it really counts to overcome its mostly insignificant shortcomings. These should be easy to ignore in the light of our relishing every minute with Tomei and Elliott.

This production as presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company comes with new supporting cast, but with the same director Trip Cullman and the same design team. It is Cullman's staging of the play's various scenes that is mostly bafflingj, especially his lame attempts for everything to be true to Williams' intention, to be symbolic. Symbolism run amok also applies to the confounding setting — Serafina's skeletal home and the beach front with it horde of pink flamingos — designed by Mark Wendland.

The brilliant lighting design by Ben Stanton does come to the rescue, as does the visual of the surf designed by projection designer Lucy Mackinnon. More troubling is the rather large supporting cast that appear as aimless intruderso, with none being anything close to being — as ialso intended by Williams — effectively comical, absurdist or melodramatic.

The play only works when we see Tomei alternately erupt and quell the fires of her volatile heart — yet guiding.Serafina from the peaks of passion to the valleys of despair and making her transitions in a flash from fury to ecstasy as if there were no plateaus in between to rest. I can't recall a more enjoyable roller coaster ride of emotions like this.

The play takes place in a village somewhere along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Mobile. It's the story of a woman who when she is suddenly widowed, throws herself into a frenzy of half-madness and superstition, only to feel the resurgence of passion when a virile truck driver — almost but not quite the image of her late husband — comes into her life.

To watch Serafina's life miraculously renewed as she is caressed and cajoled out of her self-absorbing misery by the comically wooing, sobbing truck driver Mangiacavallo is great fun, as it should be. Elliott is perfect as the romantic clown who wins Serafina's heart. Too bad Director Cullman doesn't seem to know what to do with the intervening witch and the busybody neighbors that he has either meandering on stage or down the aisles singing morose folk songs —.that is whenever prompted by a musical cue that presumably comes from the spheres. That said, Tomei does burst into a wild and primitive dance of ecstasy out of the blue that is a wonder to behold.

Ella Rubin is spirited enough in the role of Serafina’s love-sick fifteen year-old daughter Rose and Burke Swanson is persuasive enough as the equally innocent young sailor who loves her. When it can be found, The Rose Tattoo is full of life, love and lust; make that capital Ls!

What this production makes all too clear is that it takes more than just the vigor of two splendid actors to give it the outrageously over-the-top life that it needs and deserves.

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Tomei’s performance is stunningly operatic by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Trip Cullman
Cast: Cassie Beck(Miss Yorke), Alexander Bello (Salvatore), Tina Benko (Estelle), Andrea Burns (Peppina), Susan Cella (Giuseppina), Emun Elliott (Alvaro), Paige Gilbert (Bessie), Greg Hildreth (Salesman), Isabella Iannelli (Vivi), Jacob Michael Laval (Billy), Ellyn Marie Marsh (Violetta), Carolyn Mignini (Assunta), Portia (Flora), Ella Rubin (Rosa), Jennifer Sanchez (Mariella), Constance Shulman (The Strega), Burke Swanson (Jack), Marisa Tomei (Serafina Delle Rose)
Set Design:Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design:Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Projection Design: Lucy Mackinnon
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Makeup Design: Joe Dulude II
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Dialect Coach: Charlotte Fleck
Production Stage Manager: Arabella Powell
Original Music, Arrangements & Music Direction: Jason Michael Webb
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 includes 15 minute intermission
Roundabout's American Airlines Theater 227 West 42nd Street
From 9/19/19; opening 10/15/19.; closing 12/08/19
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman at 10/08 press preview

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